I wake to the ruckus of an acne-scarred boy docking a train of shopping carts. It takes a moment to remember that we are in a Walmart lot, and another to recall the state. “Hannah?”
“What day is it?”
“November fourth I think.”
“November fourth!” I sit up, stooping a little to avoid the ceiling.
“‘Nov 4th: It Begins/Pershing Square’.”
Now she opens her eyes. “Oh!”
The great thing about Walmarts is that if you park alongside the back wall, you can get a wi-fi signal. And so, over a meal of water-soaked oats and half a banana, we investigate from the decadent comfort of the front seats.
Turns out that today marks a nation-wide Refuse Fascism protest. The organizers’ website describes their goal in no uncertain terms: “The Trump/Pence Regime Must Go!/In the Name of Humanity, We Refuse to Accept a Fascist America!” Antifa had a hand in promoting the event by stopping traffic on the 101, and so naturally the far-right media began to spin dire predictions.
“Antifa has announced that they are planning to kill every single Trump voter, Conservative and gun owner this November 4th,” warned the Patriot Conservative. “The far-left terrorist organization have [sic] vowed to commit acts of ‘bloody violence’ by raiding people’s homes, seizing weapons and causing civil unrest on the streets of America.” Comment sections buzzed with promises of brutality against anyone who dared protest.
Naturally, we have to see it for ourselves. Pershing Square, here we come.
The first thing I notice is the police tape: leagues of it, closing the street to an irate bottleneck of motorists. The second is the small army of cops in full riot gear: shields and masks, tear gas and Tasers. Either the city’s been reading Breitbart’s predictions of looming anarchy, or Charlottesville is still fresh on everyone’s mind.
Surely, I think, this can’t be it. Gathered behind the police cordon stand a few hundred people, clutching Spanish-English REFUSE FASCISM signs. Across the street, a counter-protest is ramping up, consisting of several white men wearing American flags. The real star of the show is an Antifa woman in a gas mask and protective clothing who squats in front of the cops, screeching a battle cry into a megaphone. To her disappointment, nobody looks likely to support her belief in the brutality of the establishment by gassing her.
For a breath, I am not sure why I am here. In the role of observer, acting on some half-assed journalistic instinct? As a participant, imposing my politics on a place I do not understand?
Hannah grabs my hand and pulls me under the police tape. “Stop overthinking. Come on.”
We scrawl CANADIANS AGAINST TRUMP across our forearms with my shiny new Universal Studios pen and join a throng of protesters around a woman speaking from the back of a slow-rolling pickup. I am pissed off about Trump’s pulling out of the Paris Accord, and take great pleasure in hurling my fist into the air and belting out Spanish chants which I only half understand, even though I doubt it will accomplish anything.
“Impeach!” comes the cry. The speaker begins to sob—something about children—and the crowd (such as it is) takes off down the block.
“‘S’cuse me.” A nasal voice in my ear causes me to swerve round, nearly knocking out the orthodontic-straight teeth of a smirking Beach Boys lookalike. “Can I talk to you?” He shoves a video camera into my face.
“I guess so.” There’s something condescending about his bearing which makes me suspicious.
“Why are you protesting if you’re not American?”
Ah. Now I recognize him. I am about to star in one of those ‘mock the stupid snowflakes’ YouTube videos. I put on my best Stephen Harper voice. “American policies have international repercussions. Take, for example, Article 13 of last weekend’s amendment to the UN declaration—”
“Thanks,” he says sourly, and lopes off in search of a more mockable target. This is fortunate, as I don’t have a proper answer.
This is not our only media encounter of the afternoon. Everyone was itching for ‘eventful’, and together the journalists and cops outnumber the civilians. A waddling man from Getty Images snaps our picture, assuring us that we will be duly recompensed if our stock image becomes a hit. Starved for anything resembling a story, the reporter for one station turns his camera on the photographer for another, and it devolves into a pathetic circle jerk.
After a couple of loops around the block, the protest peters out. There’s not so much as a whiff of civil warfare. The police, behind their masks, look rather sheepish.
“Well?” Hannah says. We’re seated on a public art installation, chowing down on tacos al pollo and watching the Antifa chick turn red in the face with the passion of a speech which nobody is listening to. “Whatcha think of this city?”
I choke on a chunk of tortilla in my haste to answer. When I come up for air, my face matches the would-be martyr’s. At last, I croak out, “I’m still not sure it exists.”
Hannah smiles. Somehow, her fingers are not sticky with salsa verde. “I think I know what you mean. Guess we head into the desert for real tonight, huh?” I grin. “Hell yes.”